Arthur and George

by David Edgar, (adapted from novel by Julian Barnes); dir Matthew Salisbury
Talisman Theatre, Kenilworth
11 – 16 June 2012

The story in Arthur and George is apparently based on a true incident where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of the world’s best-known fictional detective, turned sleuth himself in order to clear the name of one George Edalji, a half-Scottish, half-Indian lawyer who appears to have been subject to a racist campaign of persecution which resulted in him being falsely imprisoned on charges of animal mutilation.

The staging was fairly flexible with most of the action taking place at the left or right of the stage. Between these, at the back was an area where Jean Leckie (Rosemary Gowers), Arthur’s fiancée, and Muad Edalji (Lyndsey Gallagher), George’s sister, would provide occasional narration in the form of discussing the case between themselves. This was the least successful part of the production; it was flat and not captivating, making the somewhat complex story difficult to follow. Such are the perils of a play that seeks to be something of a chronicle rather than just a play. I can’t help thinking that this role may have been better served by having a narrator address the audience directly, allowing character to be bypassed in the interests of clarity.

As for the action parts of the story, things were more successful, although the main impressions I am left with are not those I was expecting. What came over most strongly was a portrait of Conan Doyle as a larger-than-life character obsessed with his own ego. His interest in the case and determination to get George the pardon he so desired seemed more to do with creating his own reputation as a detective to rival his own Holmes than with any kind of philanthropic motives. This was all handled admirably by Graham Underhill, who played the part.

Edalji (Michael Santos) was somewhat lost in the shadow of Conan Doyle, but a lot of this was due to his quieter and meeker character and in that respect came over well. The other, incidental characters were all played well enough, with Bill Davis as the local constable and possible conspirator in the persecution coming over the most strongly.

All in all an interesting, if complex play that left some good impressions – even if they weren’t what I was expecting.